Three things that deserve attention on Rosh Hashanah

צילום: מנדי הכטמן, פלאש90
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Translation by Yehohsua Siskin

1. Each minute, 70 million WhatsApp messages are sent worldwide. Every sixty seconds, $1.5 million dollars in purchases are made on the Internet, 200 million emails are sent, and 200 thousand tweets are tweeted. And here are two more numbers that attest to the explosion of information via social media: Every minute, nearly 700 thousand stories are transmitted on Instagram, and more than 500 hours of content go up on YouTube.

This is not an information superhighway as we once called it. This is an information intifada. Welcome to the era of noise. It would appear that we produce and demand more content than ever, yet we lack the ability to follow, to filter, to prioritize, and to internalize it.

Once a year, we are asked to just stop. The principle mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is not eating an apple dipped in honey or munching pomegranate seeds (although these are wonderful customs), but rather hearing the shofar. There is no need to produce anything, to make noise, or create any sound whatsoever. We need only let go - and listen. Even the blessing that we make prior to the shofar blasts is unusual: "Blessed art Thou O Lord God, King of the universe, who sanctified by His commandments, and commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar." Generally, performance of a mitzvah demands that we do something: build a sukkah, light Hanukkah candles, eat matzah. Now the mitzvah is to just to be quiet for a while and to listen.

2. Okay, and after we listened, what now? The Lubavitcher Rebbe was accustomed to publicize a letter on Rosh Hashanah eve in which he turned to the entire Jewish people with a critical message. One year, he warned that we are likely to waste these special days. We occupy ourselves with the world's problems and general subjects, and make all kinds of ideological statements that do not obligate anyone to do anything. This is our excuse, he claimed, not to occupy ourselves with the central subject of the new year: personal change; self-improvement; resolutions that we could adopt to better our own lives. The travails of the world and of our country are significant, and it's possible to spend hours discussing important issues surrounding the pandemic, the media, and politics. Yet such discussions can also be an excellent excuse for our finishing Rosh Hashanah exactly as we began it, without taking upon ourselves any actual resolution to change.

3. This is not meant to avoid the most elevated message of the day: the need for change. Just the opposite is true. On Rosh Hashanah it is appropriate to recall the well-known story that a Chasid once told: "In my youth a fire burned in me and I thought I could change the world. When I got older, I despaired at changing the world and thought I could change those in my city. When I realized that this too was impossible, I thought I could change my family, and when this also failed I reached the conclusion that I had to change myself. And then, as I began to change, I saw that my family began to change, the people in my city began to change, and the entire world began to change as well."

May we merit to be silent for a while and just listen, and change ourselves and the world around us. May everyone have a good year, and may you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

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